Billy Davies admitted his Derby side had buckled under the pressure after their defeat at Crystal Palace yesterday cost them a chance of automatic promotion to the Premiership.
Palace's victory, achieved thanks to goals in either half from Clinton Morrison and Mark Kennedy, means Coca-Cola Championship leaders Birmingham and second-placed Sunderland cannot be caught, and Derby must settle for a place in the play-offs. The Rams must approach the end-of-season competition without forward Giles Barnes, who suffered a medial knee ligament injury.
"It was about handling the occasion, and we did not get a grip of the pressure we had to face," said Davies. "Palace came out with nothing to play for. It was a Sunday stroll for them: no pressure, no problem.
"But now I can rest players in the final league game, and there is time to patch up one or two more before we go into the play-offs."
The play-offs hold bitter memories for Davies, who lost in the 2005 final and in the semi-finals last season at Preston.
But he insists he is relishing the chance of a third crack at the contest, which takes place next month.